Category Archives: Artist development

Photography, Snow and the Creative Muse!

Do you love snow?

Or hate it with a passion bordering on rage?

Does a hit of the white stuff bring out your inner child or Demon!  Maybe snow’s causing you chaos? We Brits still aren’t prepared for any significant level of snowfall. Much to the surprise of continental Europe and America who marvel at our unpreparedness in the face of a mere few inches of the white stuff

The truth is heavy snow is unusual for most of Brits, especially in the lowlands. ! Scratch that, any snow is unusual for us!

Maybe it’s the novelty, but snow provides masses of inspiration when it comes.

As an artist, my major issue with snow is how to depict it without slipping into the twee. And the association that snow = Christmas.

©2010 - Cathy Read - yellow hollyberries in the snow - digital image
©2010 – Cathy Read – yellow hollyberries in the snow – digital image

Oops, slipped up there!

Or did I throw you off with the green Holly Berries? There’s plenty of scope for interest with snowy pictures. The snow’s texture, the icicles, the way trees droop under the weight of it, light reflecting and sparkling off the snow, outlines smoothed beneath a unifying blanket. But how to create the image?

One technique I employ is photography.

With digital cameras much of the technical skill is within the reach of most people. But there are some tricks to making snowy pictures work.

All that white tends to dazzle the light meter on the camera so there’s a tendency to under exposure as the camera compensates. It’s something I’m only just getting to grips with. And I’ve a lot to learn from people like digicamhelp.

Being something of a wimp and liking to keep my fingers warm (they work better that way). I tend to photograph scenes to use to make art later.

I don’t class photography as my medium. More a way of “instant sketching” But sometimes the results make me happy! Like this one.

©2010 - Cathy Read - Zen snowman - digital image
©2010 – Cathy Read – Zen snowman – digital image

There’s some debate about whether you should draw from photographs. But As long as they’re your own, I see no harm.

With Architecture, for example, pictures can curve upwards. But I like that effect, and occasionally exploit it!

©2010 Cathy Read - Tingewick church - Digital image
©2010 Cathy Read – Tingewick church – Digital image

There’s a school that thinks it’s easier to draw from a photograph because all unnecessary information has been removed. True, perhaps, but when drawing people I’ve always found it harder to achieve a likeness from photographs compared to reality.

Framing pictures and experimenting with composition is easy with cameras.

One day I’ll succeed depicting snow with paint, until then my camera is my friend!

Where do you find your creative muse?

Are you like me, sold on photography?













Architectural Abstract Paintings – Greenwich bound.

Did you know Abstract paintings are often based on reality?

Most people see abstract paintings as a series of random marks, but if you spend any time looking you’ll realise many are more representational than you imagine.  You could argue that any form of painting is an abstract in that it has taken an object and made something of it that’s not the real thing. Depending in what you define as a “real thing”. A photograph might look like a building but you can’t live in it. So which is real?  They both exist in reality but you couldn’t pass the photograph off as a genuine building.

Google’s definition of Abstract is “relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures.” That’s one of many definitions. The trouble is, there’s a very fluid line between reality and abstraction and it could fuel many hours of debate, which I don’t have time for here. Another time, perhaps.

Personally I waver between the 2 ends of the spectrum.

Abstracts allow you to play with rules and perceptions whereas the more representational angle paints what you see.

Abstracts allow you to take an element and exaggerate it. You are not confined to colour, orientation, scale etc.

So why base abstract paintings on reality?

Abstracts are a way to look at reality in a new way. People tend to ignore the routine, the mundane. Walk down a city street and you might notice a taxi or a letter box if you’re looking but chances are you won’t see the ornate window bracket holding the shop sign you walk under for the 100th time. Or the pattern on the brass handle you open to the shop you buy a paper in. The boot scraper left in the wall next to a house on the corner. The patterns formed by the roof supports at your usual station. You might notice them occasionally, but rarely daily, if at all. So why not take these discoveries and make them the centre of attention?

So how do you turn reality into abstract?

An image, a set of rules and some imagination and experimentation.

I start of with a picture,

I select an area or angle view which I translated it into a tracing. This was taken underneath Greenwich Dome or O2 arena as it’s now known. At this point I can still go more representational. The structure on the left is the bottom edge of the Dome. The right hand rocket like feature looks like it belongs in a science fiction movie. An alien rocket about to launch perhaps? These are dotted around the base of the Dome. I think they are linked to heating and/or air conditioning.©2014-Cathy-Read-Work-in-Progress-Greenwich-Geometry-Pencil-40-x-50-cm-a.jpg©2014-Cathy-Read-Work-in-Progress-Greenwich-Geometry-Pencil-40-x-50-cm-a.jpg

Some pictures are more demanding than others.

The background on this had me cross eyed for a while, I’m sure you can see why. That building is wearing what looks like the architectural equivalent of a Hawian shirt. Yet I like it, in spite of the headache it has caused. I mask the pencil and then start painting freely.

Once the colour is added it begins to make more sense, or less depending on your perspective…

Although it’s still baffling, there’s no distinct overall pattern, just lots of repeating ones that morph into new ones. I allowed the base of the turbine to morph into an alien creation. Reminds me of HG Well War of the Worlds Aliens

©2014 - Cathy Read - Work in Progress Greenwich Geometry - Watercolour and Acrylic -40 x 50 cm
©2014 – Cathy Read – Abstract painting in Progress Greenwich Geometry – Watercolour and Acrylic -40 x 50 cm

With the masking remove, the finished piece looks like this.

©2014 - Cathy Read - Greenwich Geometry - Watercolour and Acrylic -40 x 50 cm
©2014 – Cathy Read – Greenwich Geometry – Watercolour and Acrylic -40 x 50 cm – £460 unframed

Of course I could have painted if differently.

I could have:

  • Changed the colours
  • Switched the darks and light
  • Picked out two contrasting colours and alternated them
  • Placed bold outline around adjacent shapes unconnected to what was there,
  • Added a simple, solid colour shape in the centre

The options are endless, all you need is to let your imagination run wild.


And if you’re struggling with that, you might like to check out my other abstracts in the shop.







Abstract Painting – Journey Begins 2

What is an abstract Painting?

What do you think of when you hear the word abstract?

Does you conjour up images of Jackson Pollock,s drippy or Mark Rothko squares? Or do you imagine something closer to reality? Pablo Picaso’s cubism paintings perhaps?

There’s no one size fits all with abstracts.

©2012 - Cathy Read - The Journey begins- Mixed media - 40x50cm
©2012 – Cathy Read – The Journey begins- Mixed media – 40x50cm

You can have pictures that are just a little abstract.

Based on reality, they look like something but they are still abstracts. There has been an attempt to use an existing object, scene or person to begin a process which has resulted in the painting. To splodges of paint, lines or blocks of colour. This is where I’ve settled, architectural abstracts. It suits me.

One thing I’ve always found though.

The best abstract paintings abide by a set of rules.

It may be limiting the colour palette. Or dripping the paint or only using angular shapes. Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures applied the “Less is More” rule. There are many rules you can use. If you want abstracts to work, it’s not a case of just splashing colour on a canvas, throwing things together or carving as you fancy. So take your pick and make your choice.

Spending time deciding what is key to an painting and what can be left out makes a painting work.

Keeping to those rules consistently is how style develops.

So, next time you look at an abstract painting, why not ask yourself:

What rules is the artist using here?







Stupid things done in the name of art – Number 1

Do you have an obsession?

You know what I mean, a “casual” mention causes you loved ones to groan because they expect you to talk for hours! Or they keep you away from certain shops because you’ll spend your life savings if not controlled?

Like most artist’s, mine is art materials.

I  managed to keep a lid on things by keeping to watercolour, pastel, oil and acrylic! That was fine…I had all I needed and just topped things up when they ran out!

But then I started mixed media painting, and discovered so many more things I “needed”.

Like the oil pastels for this one…

Faith built on sand
©2010 – Cathy Read – Faith Build on Sand – Tissue Paper and oil pastel

Working with large canvases, struggling with a field easel for a year. using string to hold the legs together.

I needed a studio easel.

My limited budget was a problem, I wasn’t selling much work at the time. Visiting  London one day, I explored an Art shop near Trafalgar square. I was specifically looking for liquid acrylics, but also decided to check out easels. They had one and  I could afford it but they didn’t have the acrylics I needed. However, their Soho store did and was “just around the corner”. Which was true, or so the little map said.

The little map lied!

It was “around the corner” but not nearly as close as their convenient little map card would have you believe. I found the store and about 20 streets not on the map! This should have made me rethink my plan but no, I have a stubborn streak. I really should have left it there, but no, I wanted a shiny new easel! They had what I wanted, easel and acrylics. Result!I

I opted for a less bulky but more expensive option- still cheaper than anything else. Now to get it home. Bear in mind this was a money saving exercise so Taxi’s were out of the question!

Ever tried transporting bags and a boxed easel on the London Underground?

During rush hour?

No? Well, here are the highlights!

  • During 10 minute walk to underground – Wishing I’d accepted the nice assistant’s offer to carry the easel to Piccadilly Circus. But don’t fancy the walk back to the shop to take him up on it!
  • At the station I realise I should have walked to Leicester Square (same distance) to save changing trains! There’s probably one closer. But I can’t bear to look!
  • Getting on packed trains with large boxes is like playing Tetris… near the top.
  • Dragging boxes along platforms causes easels to break out of boxes.
  • Makeshift handles tend to collapse.
  • You can do a really good comedy sketch where people jump/are knocked out of the way by carrying said box on your shoulder.
  • Easel home, obsession satisfied, until the next art shop visit.

Next time I’ll use the delivery service.

Do you have an obsession that made you do something you regret? Or is it just me?

Will you share and make others feel better?




Abstract vs Realism – Which is better?

Are you a fan of abstract art?

Or maybe you prefer something more understandable. You like art that you can tell what it is?

When I started out as an artist Representational Art was my thing

Happily, creating realistic portraits and scenes  Like this one of Henton Mission Room at the marvelous Chiltern Open Air Museum – a museum of buildings no less.

©2010 Cathy Read-Henton Mission Room-31x21cm- Watercolour on paper
©2010 Cathy Read-Henton Mission Room-31x21cm- Watercolour on paper

I have a confession to make, I used to hate abstract art.

Understanding abstracts, especially paintings such a Guernica, was a struggle. I was quite happy to state my opinion that abstracts were rubbish. Until someone explained to me what Picaso was trying to demonstrate. Suddenly it clicked.

How can you paint intangible things like emotion without abstraction?

Sure, you can paint people in emotional states, but not emotion itself. So I started experimenting with my own abstracts, like this one.

©2009 Cathy Read - Order in chaos - 35x25cm Mixed Media on paper
©2009 Cathy Read – Order in chaos – 35x25cm Mixed Media on paper

The more I did, the more I realised representation is too traditional for me. Don’t get me wrong, representational looks good. It’s just restricted. You either paint what is there, create a photograph like realism. Or you develop a degree of abstraction and give yourself more freedom to express yourself. You are free to break the rules. Although, don’t break too many at once, and not all of them.

The best abstracts still have some rules behind them.

The rules may come from way outside the box, but rules create structure which can help define an abstract

Now I love abstracts. They provide greater opportunities for my creativity, not because I can’t create realistic images. But because I can add a new dimension to the images Realism informs the choices for my abstracts, So I continue to develop my understanding of the representational.

What do you think about Abstract Art?

A load of old tosh or a new dimension for expression?

Let me know in the comments.










Misty Thames – Inspiration to create a painting.

Do you need inspiration to create?

I’m often asked where I find my inspiration.

The short answer is everywhere. There’s a marvelous line from  Chuck Close

“Inspiration is for Amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

People tell me how they only paint when they are inspired.

The trouble with this idea is that inspiration can come at anytime, and if you don’t capture the idea at the time, it’s lost.

Ever laid in bed at night and come up with a fantastic idea,

only to have forgotten it in the morning?

Or, how about this you have a fantastic idea, and try to create it, but it just doesn’t come out as well as you imagine it should? Then you’re discouraged and do nothing for months?

In other words, you either fail to capture the moment or the execution fails and you give up.

Creativity is like running a marathon.

You have to train and eat well for months before the big day. Miss the odd day and you’ll probably be OK. Start running on the day of the marathon and you’ll fail. The secret to inspiration is to keep doing. The more you do, the more skilled and inspired you become.

First, You have to exercise your body

learn to draw, paint or sculpt and keep doing them

Prepare your mind to be open to new ideas and techniques.

You have to remember the skills you’ve acquired and understand where to apply them. You have to live and breath the art so that you can recognise that moment of inspiration in a chance happening.


Misty wheel here came about after 2 distinct moments of inspiration.

The first was when I was walking on the south Bank of the Thames on a wet and dismal day in March. The view appealed, especially the positioning of the lone orange/red pod. I took a few pictures with my phone.

When I was painting, the brown ink I was using bled out in an unexpected way.

I wasn’t happy with the result so I used some white ink to cover it. When I applied the first drop of white ink I was concerned it was too stark, but the brown was still wet and mingled in a rather pleasing way. So I carried on applying ink along with some salt and water.

Because I’ve done many other paintings, I wasn’t phased by an apparent disaster and was able to act and save the situation.

I doubt I would have adapted as well if I hadn’t been in a habit of regular painting.

You don’t have to be an artist to be creative. Creativity applies to most aspects of our lives. I have been struggling to write this post and the irony is not lost on me. If I wrote more frequently, I’d have found it easier.

So what do you do to be ready for inspiration? Let me know in the comments.